Etc: Links for 14th June, 2019

  1. “But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.”
    Ezekiel J. Emmanuel on how long he wants to live. Worth reading to ponder questions of mortality and what it means to each of us. Also worth reading up on: memento mori.
    ..
    ..
  2. “Indeed, the German hyperinflation was not even the worst of the twentieth century; its Hungarian equivalent, dating to 1945-46, was so much more severe that prices in Budapest began to double every 15 hours. (At the peak of this crisis, the Hungarian government was forced to announce the latest inflation rate via radio each morning, so workers could negotiate a new pay scale with their bosses, and issue the largest denomination banknote ever to be legal tender: the 100 quintillion (1020) pengo note. When the debased currency was finally withdrawn, the total value of all the cash then in circulation in the country was reckoned at 1/10th of a cent. [Bomberger & Makinen pp.801-24; Judt p.87])”
    ..
    ..
    I wasn’t aware of what the topic of this essay is about – which is not contained in the excerpt above. Somewhat shamefully, I wasn’t even aware of the Hungarian episode quoted above! Read more, sir, read more!
    ..
    ..
  3. “Consider the first time a right-handed player tries to dribble with the left hand. It’s awkward, clumsy. Initially, the nerves that fire off signals to complete that task are controlled in the front cortex of the brain. Over time, with countless repetitions, those nerve firings become more insulated. The myelin sheath builds up. Eventually, less effort is required to use that left hand, and the brain processes it as second nature.The same is possible with pressure, according to neurologists. With repetition, stress can be transformed into fortitude.”
    ..
    ..
    Put yourself in pressure situations, and repeatedly. That’s the only way, this article says, to handle pressure. Lovely read!
    ..
    ..
  4. “The project in Colombia, a partnership with the nonprofit Conservation International, involves protecting mangrove forests, which can store 10 times as much carbon as terrestrial forests. In its first two years, the program is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 17,000 metric tons, roughly equal to the next decade of emissions from the lidar-equipped survey vehicles that update Apple Maps. “This is rare for Apple to say, but we are telling other companies to copy us on this,” Jackson says.”
    ..
    ..
    I have only glanced through this article, and haven’t come close to reading all the entires (a true rabbit hole), but there’s lots of small interesting snippets here about creativity. Not so much, based on what I’ve seen of the “how to be creative”, but rather descriptions of folks who are creative.
    ..
    ..
  5. “The (c)rapture I felt was likely a case of “poophoria,” explains Anish Sheth, the gastroenterologist and coauthor of toilet-side staple What’s Your Poo Telling You? “Some have compared it to a religious experience, others an orgasm,” he says. The exact science is unknown, but Sheth thinks the sensation may result from “a slightly prolonged buildup, an overdistension of the rectum, and immediate collapse by passing a sizable stool, which fires the vagus nerve and releases endorphins.” Lights-out pooping, Sheth adds, may “help with a proper rate of exit.””
    ..
    ..
    Truly etc., this. The Wired magazine on, well, pooping in the dark.

Links for 4th June, 2019

  1. ““Alexa, are you recording everything you hear?” It is a question more people are asking, though Amazon’s voice assistant denies the charges. “I only record and send audio back to the Amazon cloud when you say the wake word,” she insists, before referring questioners to Amazon’s privacy policy. Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, gives a similar answer. But as smart speakers from Amazon, Apple, Google and other technology giants proliferate (global sales more than doubled last year, to 86.2m) concerns that they might be digitally snooping have become more widespread. And now that these devices are acquiring other senses beyond hearing—the latest models have cameras, and future ones may use “lidar” sensors to see shapes and detect human gestures (see article)—the scope for infringing privacy is increasing. So how worried should you be that your speaker is spying on you?”
    ..
    ..
    The article doesn’t answer the question it frames in as direct a fashion as readers might wish, but read this to understand that there is (as with everything else in life) a benefit to this technology, as also a cost.
    ..
    ..
  2. “Many voters may have felt that others, more wealthier than them, were also being hurt by demonetization, and hence supported the adventurist move.The results of the second round of the YouGov-Mint Millennial Survey conducted in early 2019 suggest that even today and, despite all the evidence to the contrary, many urban youths who support the ruling party consider demonetization to be a great success of the government.”
    ..
    ..
    Can you drive in reverse in a tunnel, Professor Hirschman? Livemint does a three year review of demonetization, and it is worth reading for a variety of reasons.
    ..
    ..
  3. “Not all New York City views are created equal.Direct Central Park views may be the most valuable amenity in Manhattan real estate, but in a market filled with soaring new developments — some of which wind up blocking the views of other buildings — even a partial glimpse of a river, park or the city skyline can also command a hefty premium.”
    ..
    ..
    This article is proof that microeconomics can be fun. But beyond that, it is also worth going through the article to take in the photographs. New York looks gorgeous!
    ..
    ..
  4. “What Microsoft figured out is that it made far more sense for both Microsoft and their customers to pay on a subscription basis: companies would pay a set price on a monthly or annual basis, and receive access to the latest-and-greatest software. This wasn’t a complete panacea — updating software was still a significant undertaking — but at least the incentive to avoid upgrades was removed.There were also subtle advantages from a balance sheet perspective: now companies were paying for software in a rough approximation to their usage over time — an operational expense — as opposed to a fixed-cost basis. This improved their return-on-invested-capital (ROIC) measurements, if nothing else. And, for Microsoft, revenue became much more predictable.”
    ..
    ..
    Ben Thompson helps one understand Microsoft, SaaS, Slack, Zoom and a simple way to understand what makes new businesses potentially attractive – be sure to read through the entire article to reach the four quadrant diagram at the end. Entirely worth your time.
    ..
    ..
  5. “When it was finally time to deploy, with no hint from the U.S. or China or Brazil or India that anyone would send out a countering air force to simply knock the planes out of the sky, the three billionaires went back to the island and sent the aerosols tumbling through the stratosphere. There was no ceremony, no champagne, no photographs. This was nothing to be celebrated.”
    ..
    ..
    My phrase-I-learned-today: Solar Radiation Management.

Links for 19th March, 2019

  1. “Why do two people need a scrap of paper except to reassure them there’s concrete proof of their relationship?”
    … is a question worth asking in many respects, not just relationships. But some articles don’t really need to be subjected to analysis. A truly beautiful read, by Priya Ramani.
  2. “The episode is symptomatic of a fundamental European problem: unlike in China, macroeconomic policy, industrial policy and foreign and security policy are run independently of each other. The Huawei 5G bid shows that the EU is not well prepared to deal with a connection between security and industrial policy. Nor have the Europeans paid much attention to the impact of their fiscal rules — not least on defence and security policies. China, by contrast, has an integrated approach to economic and foreign policy.”
    Wolfgang Manchau on China and Germany, and who will have the upper hand going forward. Also an interesting way to think about what works better – top down approaches, or decentralized decision making. I usually find myself in favor of decentralization, but this article made me think about that a bit.
  3. “Second, growth in India has been unequalising because the top 10 per cent have benefitted disproportionally more from it than the bottom 90. In addition, growth has been unequalising across regions and ethnicities. In these circumstances, arguments for direct transfers are in vogue to compensate for this failure, not to address it.”
    Rathin Roy in an excellent article explains why we spend far too little on far too many things (and when I say we, I mean the government). Two things: this, theory suggests, is inevitable. Two, the column doesn’t mention – probably because of lack of space – the political compulsions that make this all but inevitable. But it is a great read!
  4. “Economists and commentators who have written on UBI for India have made the case for doing away with many subsidies and exemptions. The problem is that doing so may not be politically feasible. How does any politician sell the taking away of food subsidies to the masses of the country? Or how does any politician justify the introduction of tax on agricultural income or the introduction of estate duty or doing away of subsidies on urea and other fertilizers?”
    And while on that topic, Vivek Kaul in ThinkPragati reviews a book about Universal Basic Income by Guy Standing. I have not read the book, but the quote above jumped out at me. In my opinion, the problem with implementing UBI in India is not an economic one, but a political one.
  5. “Olive trees follow a pattern known as alternate bearing, with bad years routinely followed by good. This year, the EU expects Europe’s overall olive basket to be saved by a surge from its biggest producer, Spain.A trend there towards super intensive plantations may partly mitigate climate change impacts, according to Valentini – but at a cost to traditional farming and biodiversity. Fast-growing, high-density olive plantations might be more drought-resistant but water resources could also be limited by these plantations, he said”
    Will future generations understand the phrase “like taking coals to Newcastle”? Italy – and I cannot believe I am typing this out – will import olives this year. Whatever will the next Mario Puzo do?

Links for 15th March, 2019

  1. “Nellie’s tree is said to be the most romantic in the UK. Nearly a century ago, Vic Stead would walk to a nearby village to visit a woman he was courting, called Nellie. One day, he came across three beech saplings and grafted one between the other two to form the letter ‘N’ in an attempt to woo her. They went on to marry and have children, and the tree is a popular site for proposals today”
    The Guardian comes up with  a lovely photo essay about the ‘European Tree of the Year’. Do not miss the tree that stands in the middle of a highway that connects the Netherlands to Belgium as well.
  2. “At the moment, global CO₂ emissions are about 37 billion metric tons per year, and we’re on track to raise temperatures by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. To have a shot at maintaining a climate suitable for humans, the world’s nations most likely have to reduce CO₂ emissions drastically from the current level — to perhaps 15 billion or 20 billion metric tons per year by 2030; then, through some kind of unprecedented political and industrial effort, we need to bring carbon emissions to zero by around 2050. In this context, Climeworks’s effort to collect 1,000 metric tons of CO₂ on a rooftop near Zurich might seem like bailing out the ocean one bucket at a time.”
    Direct air capture of carbon, which is what the article is about, isn’t really going to ‘solve’ climate change anytime soon. But the article is worth reading because it speaks about a variety of economic issues, including climate change – there’s public goods, pricing, subsidies, micro-payments, the creation of markets, and much else.
  3. “Many of the dominant policy ideas of the last few decades are supported neither by sound economics nor by good evidence. Neoliberalism – or market fundamentalism, market fetishism, etc. — is a perversion of mainstream economics, rather than an application thereof. And contemporary economics research is rife with new ideas for creating a more inclusive society. But it is up to us economists to convince their audience about the merits of these claims.”
    Dani Rodrik, and ten others aim to recast economics as being for ‘inclusive prosperity‘. Ten policy briefs to begin with, and more to come later. The idea isn’t to form another think tank, as the post mentions, but to promote more academic research along these ten briefs.
  4. “This Letter quantitatively evaluates the beneficial impact a negative Fed policy rate could have had during the recovery from the Great Recession. While it’s difficult to capture all the complexities of the economy in a model, this analysis suggests that negative rates could have mitigated the depth of the recession and sped up the recovery, though they would have had little effect on economic activity beyond 2014. The analysis also shows that the interest rate does not have to fall too deeply into negative territory to accomplish meaningful economic improvements.”
    Would negative interest rates have helped generate a quicker recovery in the United States? This letter suggests that this may well have been the case. Forget the model that was used – that’s a rabbit hole in its own right – but take a look at this article for a very readable introduction to the world of negative interest rates.
  5. “‘NIRC’ – it’s a uniquely Singaporean economic abbreviation that stands for net investment returns contribution.
    It’s a mouthful, but in the coming weeks the term is likely to be on the lips of many of the Lion City’s lawmakers as they debate the national budget Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will unveil on Monday. The NIRC is the amount of Singapore government revenue that comes from interest earned on its outsize reserves.”
    Everything about Singapore is worth reading, and I really do mean that. Reading this article will introduce you to one of Singapore’s lesser known features – Singapore’s government runs a pretty large fund, it is pretty profitable (presumably), and there’s debate about what to do with the proceeds.

Links for 13th February, 2019

  1. “The trick in a busy trauma bay is to look at a patient, decide whether he or she is dying in front of you. The way you make that decision is basically trauma poker: You’re looking for the tells that their body, the remarkable machine of the human body, is compensating to keep them alive, or refusing: heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, the color of the skin. The body, if you listen, will tell you what’s going on.”
    A harrowing read on life as a trauma surgeon in Chicago. Lessons on opportunity cost, development, conflict, retaliation, game theory and much more. Great read.
  2. “Bundled pricing is one reason why subscription models like Spotify should ultimately win out over à la carte models like iTunes. Subscription commerce can also be thought of as a form of bundling.”
    Or put another way, in the age of the internet, why does Netflix exist? There are many textbooks that do a better job of explaining this, but for a good primer on bundling, this is a good place to start. Note that this was written in 2012!
  3. “Mature fiscal systems create checks-and-balances which reduce the extent to which debt or off-balance-sheet liabilities can surge. Perhaps less developed countries have weak institutions, and then the political leadership sees a different optimisation. Short bursts of GDP growth can then be achieved in many bad ways, such as a surge in debt, piling up off-balance-sheet liabilities, etc. But this is not sustained growth: We get a spurt of high growth, and then things go wrong.”
    What do I think of this year’s budget? is a question I often get in classes – every year. This blog post is a good way to think about budgets – every year, and irrespective of who is in power.
  4. “The data means that the five warmest years in recorded history have been the last five, and that 18 of the 19 warmest years have occurred since 2001.”
    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’ll reiterate it repeatedly. We do not worry anywhere near enough about climate change.
  5. “What is more interesting, though, is the story of Windows’ decline in Redmond, culminating with last week’s reorganization that, for the first time since 1980, left the company without a division devoted to personal computer operating systems (Windows was split, with the core engineering group placed under Azure, and the rest of the organization effectively under Office 365; there will still be Windows releases, but it is no longer a standalone business).”
    Ben Thompson on something that I while growing up would have considered absolutely impossible – the end of Windows.

Links for 12th February, 2019

  1. “Each of these imbalances is important and needs to be rectified. One has to do with the differing levels of per-capita consumption of basic public goods and services. The other has to do with the differing levels of stock of infrastructure leading the differential growth accelerating potential development. These are two distinct  policy goals and following Tinbergen Principle warrants two distinct policy instruments. Eliminating the Planning Commission and replacing this with NITI Aayog merely as a think tank leaves us with only one instrument; namely Finance Commission. This approach if not reviewed can lead to a serious problem of increasing regional and sub-regional inequities.
    Who better than Dr. Vijay Kelkar to tell us more about Niti Aayog 2.0? You might want to look up the Tinbergen Principle if you do not know about it already. (Via Mostly Economics)
  2. “Last year, at the end of the summer melting season, the team drew lines on the stakes marking the height of the ice, as researchers have done here for decades. Now, looking at a stake nearly a year later, Nikolay Kasatkin, one of the institute researchers, and Dr. Shahgedanova saw that more of the wood was visible. With the end of melting still a couple of months off, parts of the Tuyuksu were already about three feet thinner.”
    The NYT does excellent work tracking climate change, and this article is only the latest in a long string of articles entirely worth reading. Best viewed on a desktop.
  3. “ICICI directors shouldn’t get a free pass from regulators. Otherwise, they’ll just show up at other boards, perpetuating a culture of CEO worship that’s at odds with their role as stewards of public shareholders. Indian investors deserve better.”
    Andy Mukherjee doesn’t mince words while talking about the lack of oversight at the board level in ICICI Bank. What might the situation be like at other banks in India?
  4. “It can be easy to think of a calendar as a scientific given, or a reflection of the laws of the universe. In fact, as these holidays remind us, there are as many ways to track time as there are cultures and languages. Each calendar reveals something about how the people who created it relate to the world around them while also preserving rich cultural identities and memories.”
    A nice read from the NYT about the way different cultures track time – as it turns out, there are many ways to measure it – the lunar and the solar calendars happen to be just two of them.
  5. “India’s first education policy was framed in 1968 based on the famed Kothari Commission report, the second in 1986 and the third—a revision of the 1986 policy—in 1992.The official cited above said it’s not as if the previous policies were implemented quickly. In fact, making eight years of education compulsory was part of the 1968 policy but it was implemented only in 2009 through the Right to Education Act.”
    A depressing read, particularly for me, but the state of India’s NEP today mirrors much of India’s inaction on this in the past.